Kurt Kitayama has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Brooks Koepka and Peter Uihlein and win the European Tour Rookie of the Year award. He can become just the third American to take the title if he can stay ahead of Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre over the final two events of the European season.
The UNLV grad moved into pole position with a joint second-place finish in the $7 million Turkish Airlines Open. The Chico, California native got into a six-man playoff with a closing 8-under 64 only to bow out at the third extra hole when he failed to make a birdie.
Tyrrell Hatton and former Vanderbilt player Matthias Schwab were left to fight it out, with Hatton emerging victorious at the fourth extra hole. Erik van Rooyen, Benjamin Hebert and Victor Perez were eliminated at the first extra hole.
Kitayama was looking for his third win of the season to go with victories in the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open and Oman Open. Instead he had to settle for joint second and a check for $430,590 to take his season total to just over $1.8 million.
MacIntyre finished T-7, two shots behind Kitayama, to fall behind the American in the rookie race. The Scot arrived in Turkey ninth on the Race to Dubai and drops to 14th. Kitayama arrived in Turkey in that spot but jumps three places to 11th.
Whoever finishes higher on the Race to Dubai at the conclusion of the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai will take the best newcomer of 2019 award. With two huge tournaments remaining, the $7.5 million Nedbank Challenge and $8 million DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, the rookie race is wide open.
Koepka was the last American to win the rookie award. He did so in 2014, a year after Uihlein picked up the title.
Hatton’s victory, his fourth, is his first since the 2017 Italian Open. It’s certainly his most surreal. The playoff finished in darkness. Thankfully, the final nine holes of the Maxx Royal course in Antalya are floodlit.
“It’s so surreal,” Hatton admitted. “I actually can’t believe that I’ve won. It’s been a difficult year in terms of things happening off course. The last month I feel like I’ve really found my game again. I said to a few people in my team that if I was lucky enough to win again then I’d definitely savor the moment because I think it’s quite easy to take it for granted. Sport’s great when it’s going well, but when it’s not going well it kind of hits home. I’m absolutely thrilled.”
Hatton picked up a check for $2 million to move to sixth on the Race to Dubai. More importantly, he will move from 48th on the Official World Golf Ranking to around 30th when the rankings are updated. That means a special invitation to a certain tournament next April.
“I was well aware of my world ranking coming into this week. I just wanted to have a good day today because I thought that might secure the Masters. It’s such an important tournament. I can’t wait to get that Masters invite through the post again. It’s just a bonus that comes with doing well.”